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THE ANCIENT WELLS

The ancient peoples had no means of conveying water and had to settle where it was to be found. Given a warm, sunny spot near a river, a burn, or a lake, with the added means of procuring food in the neighbourhood, we may with confidence look there for traces of a pre-historic community.  Another indispensable condition for primitive man was access to the sea in winter. With domestic animals to cultivate the ground in summer and produce food for us.  In winter man can maintain life in the interior of Scotland all the year round with comfort; but without cattle and without access to the sea in winter men would have been unable to survive the frequent rigorous winters of Scotland. Both these essentials for primitive man - proximity to potable water, and convenient access to the sea -  were at the command of the early settlers at the mouths of the Don and the Dee.

Cattle thrived at certain watering holes and these were accredited with beneficial properties. Then came the Celts and the water cult in Scotland was established. Each Spring or well had a water spirit or guardian and was a place of ritual and superstition. Not all spirits were harmless.  The Water Bull was least harmful and would help crofters plough their fields. Only rarely did the bull dray a poor peasant to a watery grave.  The kelpie made mischief but did do good deeds. The malevolent spirit to beware of was The Water Horse who would carry off young maidens who mounted the golden stallion and would find themselves stuck there and drowned.

Offerings were given up to the guardians by nailing coins etc. to nearby trees. Aberdeen with 2 rivers and many burns and lochs had lots of wells.  Each well had its own unique properties which cured a sore head to gout. People rushed to the most popular sites to be cured and businesses sprang up around them. Affluence of the middle classes in the late 18th Century with their indulgence in wine, gluttony and a dislike of exercise led to a whole new set of ailments. They turned to the wells for relief. A craze for 'taking the waters' had arrived

Fountainhall Well
Cistern House, Fountainhall or Fountain Haugh 1706.
Re-erected 1903 in the Duthie Park.

Small rubble cistern house. Flat-square opening to centre of South Elevation with large lintel, Metal plaque above reading "Old Well from Lands of Fountainhall, erected in connection with the first engineered City water supply of 1706, Rectangular pool in front, with 4 stone steps on each side leading down to water; brick and stone lined vaulted inner chamberThe original site was at the edge of a field on the Fountainhall Road and was Photographed by G W Wilson in 1900. Original Site Photo

The Cistern House was originally sited at Fountainhall, and dates from the time when there was a single reservoir in Aberdeen, collected from the springs at Carden's Haugh, creating the first clean and healthy water supply to the City. 

This small cistern house was erected in connection with Aberdeen's 1st City water supply. Water had previously been obtained from the Loch but by 1706 it had become polluted and lead pipes were laid to bring water from Carden's Haugh Well. Six cisterns or fountain-houses were built along the old Fountainhall Road and water was conveyed from these sources to the Water House in Broad Street until 1866. A new scheme was eventually introduced and in 1903 the Fountainhall Well was taken from its original site and rebuilt in Duthie Park.

Cardenhaugh Well - Garden's Well
To which citizens long ago made excursions in such numbers that old women attended with jugs and baskets of gingerbread, once a favourite cake with young and old. The well was on the north side of the Denburn, where it enters a culvert near the Grammar School. Its water was the first to be taken into Aberdeen in a pipe.

It was not till 1706 that the inhabitants determined that they would no longer put up with the Loch water and agreed to bear the expense of bringing pure water from Garden's Well, a spring on the left bank of the Denburn, near the Grammar School, in the line of Victoria Street and at the east end of the lane behind the feus in the east side of Skene Street. A cistern was made to which was conveyed the produce of several short collecting drains. The spring bubbled up among the sand at the edge of the burn. It was reckoned to be strong, but the discharge from it did not exceed three gallons per minute. Sometimes in dry weather it nearly failed, and then recourse was had to the Denburn to supplement it. The spring in the margin of the Denburn is now very feeble, but a well called Garden's Well is still in existence though out of use on the east side of Garden House. The well is in the bottom of the garden behind Garden House. It was out of the town and formed the goal of many young couples out for a walk in a summer evening. At the well the chief amusement was splashing one another with water from the well. The water was in request for making tea, an expensive luxury a 100 years ago, and therefore a little extra trouble was not grudged in connection with it. Water for afternoon tea was carried to considerable distances from Garden Well, and it was frequently called the "Tea Wallie." It is usually supposed that there must have been a saint named Garden or Gardan to whom the spring was dedicated. But the full name of this well was formerly Cardenhaugh Well, so that it had been named from a place and not a person. There is a Gardenwell in Fyvie, and several places are called Kincardine, so Garden seems to be a place name. It comes from Gaelic "cathair" (pronounced caer), place, seat ; and " dain " ; genitive of " dan," judgment - the name meaning, therefore, the well at the place where a baron held his courts (usually in the open air) for trying causes among his tenants.

The Angel Well
The angel in the Christian Church means the Archangel Michael, who was regarded as the guardian angel of the true Church. In Scotland 5 churches and their parishes are called Kirkmichael from having been placed under his special protection. His festival, September 29, was so generally kept that it became one of the quarterly terms of England. He is the patron saint of Russia, and a convent on the White Sea dedicated to him became the nucleus of a large town, known as Archangel. There was in Aberdeen a well called the Angel Well. According to the late John Ramsay, editor of the "Aberdeen Journal," it was in or near Hanover Street, and there was there in the 1st part of 18th century an Inn frequented by farmers and travellers, at which there was a deep draw well. The site is now occupied by Hanover Street School, and when the foundation was excavated it was found that there was a very deep deposit of fine stratified sand, an old sea beach frequently met with at 50 to 100 feet above sea in the foundations of houses. It is destitute of water, but under it lies glacial clay, and when it is reached and entered for a few feet a good supply of water is found. It is likely that the name came to be given to the well by being in a croft or field given by some pious donor for the purpose of maintaining a priest to say masses for the soul of the founder at the altar of St Michael in St Nicholas Church. The Chartulary of St Nicholas shows many " post mortem " gifts of annual rents to St Michael's Altar, but there is no mention of land or houses about Albion Street or Hanover Street. Probably the gift of the land with the Well in it had been made before the date at which the Chartulary opens.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The Corby Well
In Gordon's Map of Aberdeen, 1661, the brae in front of Union Terrace is called Corby Haugh, which shows that before that date it had been planted with trees, in which crows made their nests. A few hundred years ago trees were so scarce that wherever they were planted for shelter or ornament near mansions or towns they were taken possession of by crows. An Act of Parliament was passed forbidding people to let them build, and declaring the trees forfeited to the Crown if rooks were allowed to nest in them. This may have been the origin of the name given to a Well which was East of Union Terrace, and near the south end of Denburn Terrace, now removed. It was approached from the East by a foot-bridge over the Denburn at the bottom of Mutton Brae. Its site is now marked by a fountain near the bottom of the stair at the north-west corner of Union Terrace Gardens. It must, however, be said that Corby in names sometimes represents a Gaelic word "Corban," which means a cattle-fold, and that folds were usually near wells or burns.

The Corbie Well, deriving its title from the fact that a large rookery colony existed among the trees that covered the west bank of the Denburn Valley, near where the well stood. The Corbie Well was rebuilt in a different form when the Union Terrace Gardens were laid out in 1877

Pictures show the re-housed Corby Well with a surround and standard salvaged from the Union Bridge Stone parapet and lighting columns and a spare weather Vane

The Corby Well, 60 years ago, was a square stone building containing a cistern discharging water by a small pipe. They say that in the days when men drank deep at night they found a draught of water from the Corby Well very refreshing for re-hydration next morning; hence, in some shops it was the duty of the youngest apprentice to visit the Corby Well in the early forenoon with the small "rouser " used for sprinkling the shop floor to lay dust at sweeping up time. They say also that an inspection of the cistern in the stone structure on one occasion revealed a sight so disgusting, from the number of snails and other creatures that had taken up their quarters there, that it was resolved to abolish the well and replace it by a fountain supplied with Dee water.

Supplied by a chalybeate spring (Iron Salts), producing cool mineral water, this well existed before the 18th century. Moved from its original site -  in Union Terrace Gardens about 100 yards (30m) to the south, the older well was replaced in 1898 by an outlet in a plain granite ashlar wall. An inscription - "Renewed 1856" - from the old well was removed during later modernisation, and until the 1960s the wall supported one of the stone pillar lamp-posts from the 1747 Bow Brig surmounted by the weather-vane from the steeple of old St Nicholas Kirk.  Corbie Haugh was the name - because rooks nested there - of the Brae above the Gardens. Near the original Corbie Well steps led up to the south end of Denburn Terrace and to the lower part of Skene Terrace, which along with the iron foot bridge over the new underground Denburn to Mutton Brae and Schoolhill, were cleared away by 1888, prior to the construction of Rosemount Viaduct and the north end of Union Terrace.  Bairns at the Corbie Well - weel happit up.

St John's Well
Knights of St John is known as the origin of this name, and it could be assumed that the well took its name from being in a bit of land given for the support of a chaplain at the altar of St John the Evangelist in St Nicholas Church. In 1277 Richard the Mason founded this altar and made endowments for the support of a perpetual chaplain to officiate at it. He bequeathed for this purpose a croft on the west side of the Windmill Brae, worth 10s 8d annually ("Chartalary of St Nicholas," 11. 42). This was probably the ground which gave its name to the spring. In 1661 Gordon's Map shows no houses on the north bank of the Denburn west of where the Infirmary now is, but a 100 years later there was a continuous row of houses from the Well of Spa as far as Esslemont Avenue. There was also then, on the south side of the Denburn, a short row of houses called Hardweird. One inducement for building in that neighbourhood was proximity to the burn and the mill-lade (Leadside Road) for washing water, and St John's Well for drinking and cooking water. The spring was in a steep grassy bank between what is now Skene Street and Skene Row, on the left hand going down a foot road leading north-east to Upper Denburn opposite Summer Street. This road was abolished when Rosemount Viaduct was formed in 1885, and a stair straight down to Hardweird was made. At this time the well was shifted to a more convenient position and placed under the stair, where it is still flowing; but as there was a risk of the spring water being contaminated with sewage, the ordinary city water was substituted. Above the pipe discharging the water is a stone bearing the inscription: — " Sancti Joannis Fons ab operum publicorum curatoribus restitutus. A.D. MDCCCLII." (St John's Spring, renovated by the Superintendents of Public Works, 1852.) This dale refers to some improvements made at the spring in that year. Relocated to Albyn Place  near Albyn Hospital (formerly St John's Hospital).

St John's Well was so named because the Knights of St John of Jerusalem supposedly owned a croft near it. It was originally positioned to the west of Summer Road which led from the Craibstane on Hardgate over to the upper Denburn. When Rosemount Viaduct was built it was moved to Skene Row at Hardweird in 1885 when it was fed by the Dee instead of the original spring. It was rebuilt in 1852, at which time the Latin inscription was added (translated: "St John's Spring, Renovated by the Superintendent of Public Works, 1852"). Finally it was moved to its present site in 1955.

St. John's Well, once situated at the foot of Skene Row, on property once owned by the Knights of St. John. The spring was cleaned, and the stone well built by the Police Commissioners in 1852. On the construction of Rosemount Viaduct in 1885, the well was moved a few yards and Dee water was introduced. The Latin inscription is by Dr. Melvin, of the Grammar School, and reads "St. John's Well. Restored by the Curators of Public Works. 1852"

The site of St John's Well, mentioned in 1696, which was named from the fact that it stood on St John's Croft. It was of considerable local repute and a building was erected over it in 1852. In 1885 it was removed to where virtually nothing was visible in 1952, and in 1955 it was moved to 24 Albyn Place where it takes the form of a U-plan of ashlar with seats

The Hardweird, so named as having been built on the Hardweird Croft, was then the only street in Aberdeen showing the 'forestairs' that were so common in the older streets of the town. The Hardweird ran from Skene Row to Jack's Brae. Skene Row came off Skene Street, opposite Chapel Street. Part of old Gilcumstoun, it resembled a small "ferm toon" standing between the foot of Jack's Brae and Upper Denburn and it consisted of 18th and early 19th century artisan and labourers' housing - a product of the period when Gilcomston had a flourishing weaving industry. Some of the houses were demolished in 1908. One of Aberdeen's worst slums, it was cleared during the early 1930s and the playground of Gilcomston Primary School now occupies part of the site.

St Mary's Well
This well was near the bottom of Affleck Street, (off Crown Street) north of the gutter in front of a gate on the Douth side. It discharged its water by a small iron pipe. It no doubt took its name from a bit of land burdened with an annual rent to the altar of the Virgin Mary in St Nicholas Church. This altar was in the south transept. In the Chartulary of St Nicholas there is mention of a rent of 10s to this altar from the land of John Stokar in the Green, beyond the Denburn Bridge (Bow Bridge). Green here means pasture ground. The well seems to have been much frequented for drinking water by the inhabitants of the district called the Green, and there was a footbridge below the Bow Brig, in line with Guild Street, convenient for visitors to the well and those going to the Justice Mills for meal.  There is mention also of a wooden cross called the Stockrood in the Green beyond the Denburn. This might have been erected as a place for pious travellers to say prayers at before entering or leaving the city. Crosses were also erected at wells, and the Stockrood may have been a cross at St Mary's Well, where women going for water in the evening might say prayers to the Virgin. The well was still running in the middle of the 18th Century, but it has vanished out of sight.

The Well of Spa(w)
(Original Site in Spaw or Spa Street)
There is the Well of Spa that healthful font
Whose iron hue'd water coloureth the mount

This well must have been named after the famous spring of the same name in the east of Belgium. The Aberdeen spring like the Belgian contained iron. The Latin for iron is " ferrum," and the waters of both springs should have been called ferric, but the medical term applied to such waters is chalybeate, derived from the Latin word "chalybs," steel. Probably this term was selected because its meaning would not have been readily understood by the vulgar.  "When rain water, containing carbon dioxide or carbonic acid gas, sinks into soil or decaying rock containing iron it dissolves some of the iron and takes it up in the form of carbonate of iron, which makes it astringent and inky in taste but does not alter its colour. If the water issues from a drain or a crack in a rock with a large stream it shows no change in colour till it has come in contact with the air. Then it begins to grow red, because oxygen of the air displaces the carbon dioxide and forms iron oxide. Flakes of red mucous-looking matter form and adhere to grass and stones in the stream, and the water becomes clear. A blood-red stream discharged from an iron mine often becomes clear in running a mile at a roadside. People who wish to drink water containing iron should take it as it issues from the ground or a rock before it becomes red. As medicinal agents chalybeate waters act as tonics and are supposed to redden the blood. They are often prescribed for young persons of a pale complexion. Formerly chalybeate waters were in greater repute than they are at present. (Barr's Irn Bru is Scotlands most popular soft drink)

The Aberdeen spring derived its iron from a bed of old red sandstone rock which seems to occupy the whole length of the hollow extending from Berryden to Union Bridge. It had early attracted notice from its colour and taste, and probably an arrangement had been made by which its water issued from a low wall at a spout a little above the ground. It seems, however, to have had its day and to have been afterwards neglected and forgotten, for in 1615 William Barclay wrote a tract titled "Callirhoe, commonly called the Well of Spa, or the Nymph of Aberdene resuscitat, by William Barclay, M. of Art, and Doctor of Physicke." It had a preface addressed to Sir Robert Keith of Benholmi, Knight, and it was signed by " Barclay Doctor." His name does not appear in the lists of graduates either of King's or Marischal College. He is said to have been born about 1570 and to have died about 1630, and Dr Joseph Robertson says he belonged to the family of Barclay of Towie. The original Callirrhoe— beautiful stream — was a fountain at Athens. It is to be hoped that Sir Robert Keith and ether citizens of Aberdeen had understood Barclay's ostentatious style better than the moderns are able to do.

The Well of Spa in 1615 when first we hear of it was on the west side of Spa Street, about 50 to 100 yards up from Upper Denburn. The ground on the east side of Spa Street was higher than the west and the water issued from the bank on the east, coming from the brae on which the Infirmary is built. Dr Barclay's tract had been the means of drawing attention to the well, and it had been furnished with a long broad stone spout projecting from the bank, which had been faced with stones. Ornamented with portraits of the Apostles sent out by Christ to heal the sick, carved in stone, six on either side, were placed in the wall beside the spout. Among several who had benefited by drinking of the well was George Jamesone, the painter, who had suffered from stones in the bladder. The mason work of the well had become old and worn out, and he renewed it and built over it a pediment with a projecting roof.

In 1650 a spate in the Denburn and Spa burn undermined the bank and a stretch of it fell with the masonry of the well, and the spring was buried up. In 1670 it was dug out, and Alexander Skene of Newtyle, styling himself " Philopolis " — a lover of the city - petitioned the Town Council to be allowed to rebuild the well in a surer way and farther from the burn; and at the same time Skene having found a copy of Barclay's tract had it reprinted with an Approbation written by James Lesly, Med. Doct., Principal of Marischal College, with Testimonials from citizens benefited by the water of the well. Skene rebuilt the well, surmounted as before with a pediment. These inscriptions were carved on the old red sandstone masonry of the well: ' As Heavens give me So give I thee." " Hoc fonte derivata salus in Patriam populumqiie fluat." (May health derived from this spring flow to country and people.) "Spada Rediviva. 1670." (Spa come to life again. 1670.) In the apex of the pediment there is a granite stone bearing : "Renovatum est opus anno M. DCCC.LI." (The work was renewed in the year 1851.) 
There are carved near the top a rose, a thistle, and a fleur-de-lis, and lower down in the middle a flat disc, for the sun, from which issue rays all round. For greater security the roof of the pediment is now a solid angular piece of cast iron. The Well of Spa was now secure from inundation, but misfortune again overtook it. The making of the railway tunnel cut off the supply and it could not be " resuscitat," as had been done after the fall of 1650. After remaining dry for a time the well was transferred to the east side of the street, a little farther up. Water from the Well of Gilcomston at Calton Terrace was brought to the well, and a steady stream now flows from the pipe.

The Well of Spa now at the corner of Skene Street and Spa Street This ornate sandstone gable-end entrance is all that remains of the vault that was gifted to the City in 1635 by George Jamesone.  Jamesone, a Scottish portrait painter who lived in Schoolhill, drank the waters daily and highly praised the spring, known as the Spa, which ran under Woolman Hill. The curative powers of the waters were well known to physicians of the time and its virtues were extolled in an early printed book of 1580.  Unfortunately the Spa was vulnerable to flood damage. This wall was rebuilt in 1670 after it fell into disrepair following a violent torrent in the Denburn in 1650. In 1751 the well disappeared and it was 100 years before it was moved and renovated by Dr James Gordon of Pitlurg. Two cups hung from chains and the people of Denburn regularly used the water until they were connected to the city’s water supply. Finally, in 1977 it was skilfully restored by Moray Stone Cutters of Birnie.

The site of the Well of Spa, a medicinal well over which a building decorated with portraits of 6 of the Apostles had been erected, but was in ruins by 1615. It was rebuilt in 1635, replaced in 1670, renovated in 1851 and finally, the water supply having been cut off by the erection of the railway tunnel, removed in 1893 when it was incorporated in the retaining wall of the Old Infirmary Buildings. Water from another well was piped to it. The original site is covered by a road. 


 

Thieves' Brig Well
Water was scarce in the east end of the town because there were no springs there. But there was water below ground, and we find that in 1558 licence was given by the Town Council to William Donaldson and his neighbours to dig a well without the Thieves' Port, on the road to the Thieves' Brig, provided it were enclosed with a wall of stone and lime. It was a deep well, and the water was raised by a bucket and a rope wound on a roller by a crank. Its site was in Park Street, near to No.17, not far from the mouth of Shuttle Lane.

Garden Nook Well
George Jamesone the artist, who was in delicate health in the latter part of his life, had a country house on the west side of Spa Street. On the north side of it he had a large square garden called the Four-Nooked Garden, in the centre of which was a Well. This place is commemorated by Garden Nook Close, No 30 Denburn. A great quantity of earth was removed from it to make up the point between Skene Street and Rosemount Viaduct after the Public Library was built, and it had to be moved again when an addition was made to the west end of the Library.

Dyers Well
In making the Denburn Valley Railway a deep draw well was found in the track of the railway, near the end of John Street. It had most likely been made for the use of the litsters or dyers, to whom the Town Council had assigned as the site of their operations a place at the outflow of the Loch into the Spa Burn. The water of this well was utilised at a neighbouring granite cutting works.

Gibbs Map of Aberdeen 1888

The Gibberie Wallie
The Firhill Well stood at the bend of a lane leading from what now is Sunnybank Road to what now is Bedford Road. It takes its name from being located near a fir-clad hill. It is not known who built the Well but it was in existence as early as 1721. Well before spray can graffitti.

The Gibberie Wallie or Firhill Well was originally in a rural Location at Firhill.  It was on the edge of a mound in a lane leading to the Hermitage that was surrounded by the King's College Wynd and probably have been named after this fir clad mound which lay near the Snow Kirk Burial Ground. It is known to be in use prior to 1721. It was moved to its location in the Sunnybank Sports Ground on Sunnybank Road in 1937. The Well lies to the rear of a bowling green in a lovely setting. However it is not accessible as the gate is usually locked.  It is a lovely horseshow shape which would have allowed people to sit normally on the upper tier and have a fair old 'Cleck' or 'Gibber' while they waited their turn to collect slow pouring Water for domestic use.  Fit i'ye gibberin' about noo ye gibberin' eediot?

A more favoured theory is the regular sale of Gingerbread at the Well - allegedly referred to locally as Gibberie not Gingerbreed.

Original Location Image for Fir Hill Well

The Firhill Well once sprang iron rich water from the base of the Little Firhill (removed by sand quarrying in 1860’s - now the location of the University’s heating plant), to the west of College Bounds. In 1721 John Forbes drank some of the spring water, and found it helped his gallstones.

The area around the spring was known as the ‘Bog of Sunnyside’, but the water was claimed by local farmers also to have cured various ailments (including asthma, conjunctivitis and stomach pains). In 1798, thanks to public donations, a stone fountain was built to collect the springwater, and the Firhill Road was laid for easier access. The spring’s popularity greatly increased both from pilgrims for its healing powers, and as a meeting place for the young. Wooden seats supplemented the semi-circular stone benching on either side of the wellhead, and the consumption of the water had to be rationed. Between 1815 and 1830 Baubie Courage (infamous for the methods used to enforce her monopoly, and for breaking the Sabbath) sold gingerbread at the springs, which consequently became known as the Gibberie Wallie. -  whaur aul’ Baubie Courage eest tae sell her gibrie.

Milnes Map 1789

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Ramsay says that St Thomas Hospital had a Well, which in his time still remained in a house in Correction Wynd.

Each of the 4 Monasteries had within its gates a Draw Well of its own. That at Blackfriars had been fed by the neighbouring Loch.  There was also a Well at the head of Jack's Brae, a few feet from the end of Gilcomston Mill.

The original Ordnance Survey of 1867 shows many wells along the spring line at Justice Mill Lane and Bon Accord Terrace on the southern facing slope of the Glen of the Holburn (or Ferryhill Burn, or Howe burn or Justice Mill Burn)

Plan of the Cities of Aberdeen

St Fitticks Well - Balnagask
- the original site was beside a bridge crossing the railway line, and then ran through the bushes over the main road, down the cliffs into a swampy area surrounded by rocks and an old rustic gate. However, the area has now been fenced off to the public.  On the south side of the Bay, by the old Well, the shore is a precipitous bank rapidly crumbling away. The path along the top of this bank is yearly retreating inland, and the old paths which but a few years ago were safe, now end abruptly at the cliff's brink.

The old Well of the Saint, alas! is on the brink of destruction, and another winter of fierce south-easters may overwhelm it. Years ago the spring was traced back a few yards from the brink, and a temporary well, with the spring only partially tapped, built at a safe distance from the sea, but we hope the day is not far distant when a monument, worthy of its hoary traditions and its fine situation, will present the cooling stream of the old spring to the pilgrims who to-day are seeking health and repose by the Bay of Nigg, for St. Fittick's shore is still a favourite haunt of the townspeople, and on summer afternoons the cheery kettle bubbles on a dozen rude hearths raised on the sea-sward—innocent altars to the Goddess Hygeia.

St. Fittick's Well was in great repute in the days before the Reformation frowned on such superstitious observances.  Down, even till within the memory of people still living, the Well was frequented on account of its healing powers, and people gathered from country and town to lay down their simple offerings - a rag, a nail, a pin - and to seek some benefit. By degrees the religious significance of the rite was lost, but the custom of visiting the well continued, and on the first Sunday of May great numbers of people, chiefly from the City, visited the spring and the neighbourhood, and gave themselves up to amusement and revel on beach and sea brae. Town Council and Kirk Session struggled by laws and punishments to stop those Sunday wanderings and to efface those vestiges of old superstitions, but the customs of centuries die hard, and to-day young and old, to whom the name St. Fittick is a meaningless term and the repute of his well quite unknown, ramble on Sunday's and week-days to the bay once called by his name, and they find the old power still lingers, for the beauty of the Bay, the fresh sea-breeze, and the pure draught from the old spring still bless and heal.

On the wayside bank to the east of the old church there is another well, known of old as The Lady Well,

"Cooled a long time in the deep delved earth"

- roofed with an old Saxon vault, and reached by a short flight of time-worn stone steps. It is a quaint and interesting spring, but tradition has brought down little knowledge concerning it. A little way south from St. Fittick's Well, or the Downies Well, as it is also called, stands the great detached mass of cliff called " The Downies Craig,' united to the mainland by a narrow neck, " The Brig o' ae Hair," and showing a curious perforation in the neighbouring cliff, well named " The Needle E'e.' The Downies Craig is closely linked in history with St. Fittick's Well. The Craig was the usual limit of the wanderings of the May Day revellers. Here they crossed the "Brig o' ae Hair," very different in those days from its present state, for the slenderness of the connecting neck, which gave it its graphic name has been in great part massed by the rubbish, tilted over it, when the adjacent railway cutting was made. On the summit of the Craig there is a stretch of fine green sward, and thereon, the brig crossed, the youthful revellers used to cut the names of their loves.

But the shore of the Bay itself is much changed within a generation. One who played by the old well when it was a simple spring issuing from a broad grassy bank now swept away, says, "How different the Bay looked when I was a boy. It was pure sand from the old salt pans round almost to the bothy, and fine small gravel higher up, which we used to get carted for our garden walks, and in those days of wooden ships there was mostly some wreckage drawn up on the beach. I remember going out in the salmon-fishers' cobbles, and looking over the edge to the pure clean bottom. How it has all changed since the stones were taken away to make the South Breakwater."

Legend and myth tells that St Fittick himself was thought to have been shipwrecked and scrambled to shore at the Bay of Nigg c. AD 650 to convert the locals, and refreshed himself at a spring, which became known as St Fittick’s Well.

In reality, however, St Fittick in all likelihood never actually existed and is probably an amalgam of 2 different saints: St Fiacre and St Fotin. The historical evidence is absolutely clear that there was a church here since the late 12th century. The fact that the church was then consecrated in the early 13th century suggests that it was a relatively new church (or possibly a newly built church on an older site, but given the general reorganisation of the church in the 12th century it is more likely that this was a new church in the late 12th century). The church and lands were gifted by King William the Lion to the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey, and they Abbots remained the feudal superior of these lands until the reformation in 1560.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013